Making a statement
NEWBERN — Sunshine girls basketball head coach Phillip Wagner’s smile is equal parts pride and amazement as he pulls out the cardboard box that contains dozens of letters from high-profile programs from all over the country. There is one from Kansas State, one from Cincinnati, one from Ohio State. There are a slew from Kentucky and even one from the vaunted women’s program at UConn.
Wagner then grins just a little bit bigger as he shows off the business card left by one of Tennessee legend Pat Summit’s assistant coaches.
Wagner knows those letters will take the form of phone calls and visits next year. For now, collegiate coaches are still just figuring out what Wagner has at his disposal at tiny Sunshine High.
The object of those schools’ affections is junior sensation Shafontaye Myers.
Her 33-point-per-game average leads the Lady Tigers, who have stumbled early once in the early portion of the season.
“We just didn’t play well. We didn’t shoot well,” Wagner said of the road block the team encountered when it lost to Francis Marion two weeks ago. “That was one of those ball games that everything they threw up went in.”
While Wagner does not take the loss lightly, he also does not anticipate this team dropping too many more.
“The team came together when we played R.C. Hatch at Hatch,” Wagner said. “That’s a tough place to play down there.” According to Wagner, that victory handed his team the emotional lift it needed to get back on track.
The girls’ ultimate goal is one they call aloud in unison as they line up along the baseline before beginning practice.
“We’re looking forward to the state. That’s all that is on anybody’s mind right now,” Wagner said. “We’re looking forward to the state championship. To me, anything less than that wouldn’t be a good season.”
“We want it real bad,” Myers said. “We missed out four years back to back. We’re not stopping until we get there. We’re hungry.”
The goal is team’s core has had since it began playing together in middle school.
“It’s real serious. We’re just trying to come back and show them that we can play,” JohnQuesha Childs said as she sat by the wall of the school gym and went through her daily rehab routine. The junior intended on playing a vital on-the-floor role for the girls in green and gold this season. However, the team’s second-leading scorer from a year ago watched her season collapse as she sustained her second knee injury in three years.
“I was hurt at first. But I know there’s a purpose for it to happen like this,” Childs, who embraces her niche as a team leader, said. “I try to encourage (teammates) and tell them the right things to do.”
“When you lose a kid that’s averaging 15 points a ball game, somebody is going to have to make up those points,” Wagner said of the hole left by Childs’ injury.
While Myers production is unparalleled, Wagner understands the blow his team endured when it lost Childs’ exceptional talent.
“All of those schools came to look at both of them,” Wagner said in reference to the box full of letters sitting at the edge of his desk.
The tandem of Myers and Childs is among the most lethal in the state when healthy, performing with the kind of harmony that can come only from years of experience.
“We click,” Childs said of her on-court relationship with Myers. “There’s just something that makes us click when we’re on the floor together. We just make things happen.”
“We know each other’s games,” Myers said. “We’ve been playing together since elementary.”
Wagner said the program’s potential for success was evident early in the pair’s playing career.
“We knew then that they were something special,” he said of seeing Myers and Childs start games against high school girls as seventh-graders. “This has been a long-range plan.”
The year after first putting Myers and Childs together, Wagner saw the next portion of his program’s core come together when Tia Scott and LaCresha Rainer emerged.
“Taye, John, Tia and Rainer, they’ve been in the regionals ever since,” Wagner said.
The team is focused on returning to the regional tournament this year, intent upon returning to Newbern with a state crown. However, in order to accomplish such a goal, it will first need to find consistent production from the girls filling Childs’ void.
“It’s up to the rest of the team to step up,” Childs said.
“I’d prefer a team (effort),” Myers said of her hope that multiple players will prove capable of providing the needed production. “Because it’s better. One person can’t win a state championship.”
Wagner is confident he will be able to rely upon a committee of girls to raise their games.
“We’ll be able to play nine people per night,” he said of a rotation that is unusually deep for the 1A level.
That will undoubtedly come in handy for a team bent on taking what it believes is its rightful place at the top of the classification.
As for that box of letters sitting on Wagner’s desk? They will remain little more than a source of intrigue for the interim as Myers, who has been named to the regional all-tournament team since the seventh grade, spends her time contemplating Sunshine’s climb to the top of the mountain.
“I just put it all in God’s hands because I don’t know what He knows,” Myers, last season’s regional tournament MVP, said. “So I just sit at home, wait patiently and let my decision come to me.”